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Dozens of federal inmates convicted in Maryland among those released Friday under First Step Act changes

Dozens of prisoners convicted of crimes in Maryland were among thousands of men and women released Friday from federal detention nationwide as a result of prison reform legislation passed by Congress last year.

The Department of Justice said that more than 3,100 federal prison inmates were being released across the country as a result of the First Step Act’s increase of credits for good conduct behind bars.

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The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that 44 of those inmates were prosecuted in Maryland, but it declined “for privacy reasons” to name those being released.

The office of Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said it, too, had been told 44 people prosecuted in Maryland would be released. However, Hur’s office put the total number of prisoners who actually could be released Friday at less than 2,300, saying about 900 others were facing detainers from immigration officials or local or state authorities.

The Maryland Federal Public Defender’s Office, which represents many defendants in the federal court system in Maryland, did not respond to a request for comment. It has previously said attorneys in Baltimore were reviewing hundreds of drug cases to identify inmates eligible for early release under the provisions of the legislation.

The legislation aimed to expand rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug dealers and users, gave federal judges more discretion during sentencing and reduced the disparity in prison terms for those convicted of crack cocaine possession and powder cocaine possession.

Congress passed the legislation and President Donald Trump signed it in a rare example of bipartisan cooperation.

The Justice Department said Friday that the Bureau of Prisons coordinated with probation offices nationwide to create “individualized release plans for every inmate” being released, in order to “ensure a seamless transition.”

It also announced it had put $75 million of existing funds toward the implementation of the law’s provisions. New funding for such implementation has been lacking, and some criminal justice reform advocates have worried those being released under the program would not have access to all the resources they are entitled to under the law.

In addition to those released thanks to increased good behavior credits, the Justice Department said Friday that the law has resulted in 1,691 sentence reductions through its provision making retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

“Our communities are safer when we do a better job of rehabilitating offenders in our custody and preparing them for a successful transition to life after incarceration,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement. “The Department is committed to and has been working towards full implementation of the First Step Act, which will help us effectively deploy resources to help reduce risk, recidivism, and crime.”

James Wyda, the state’s federal public defender, has said previously that the cocaine provision alone could shorten prison terms for 100 to 200 men and women convicted in Maryland.

The provisions of the law do not apply to most people convicted of crimes in Maryland, who are tried in state courts and locked up in state prisons.

The 44 inmates who were prosecuted in Maryland and released Friday were not necessarily being held in Maryland, and are not necessarily from Maryland, prisons officials said.

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